Prisons failing to keep us safe

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A whole-of-government approach focused on reducing offending is a key recommendation of a report tabled today by the Victorian Ombudsman.

Between 2009 and 2012, the Victorian prison population rose by just under 11%. In the subsequent three years, this growth has more than doubled to 25%.

Over the past five years the recidivism rate has increased by 10.8% and the Corrections budget has increased by 31%.

"Prison is a temporary solution – over 99% of prisoners will be released," Ms Glass said.

"Victoria needs to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration to improve public safety and get better value for the $1 billion annual spend," she said.

"As prisons have become more crowded, the response has been to build more of them. While conditions inside prisons deteriorate under pressure, the rate of return is increasing.

"Building more prisons is demonstrably not making us safer as a community. For such enormous public investment we should be seeing much better returns.

"Long term solutions do not lie within the walls of our prisons or with a single government department.

"Victoria needs a whole-of-government approach to focus on the causes of crime rather than its consequences.

‘If we continue in this way, current trends in both prisoner numbers and cost mean it will not be long before we have to make hard decisions between prison beds or hospital beds, better schools or more security."

Key among the report’s findings are that an increase in prisoner numbers sparked by reforms to sentencing, bail and parole arrangements is reducing access to programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

"The public expects violent offenders to serve time, but offenders must also be better coming out than when they went in if we’re going to reduce crime," Ms Glass said.

"We also know that prison is the most expensive option and that there are alternative approaches which work well in appropriate cases to change offender behaviour and reduce reoffending."

Women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners were a particular focus in the report. While these two groups represent a comparatively small percentage of the prison population, their numbers are growing at a greater rate than the overall average.

"For women, specific services within prisons are limited, so the solutions must lie in alternatives to incarceration and greater support, including in transition and housing," Ms Glass said.

Given the level of disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their over-representation in custody, the report finds there is a compelling case for more action to reduce both the number of prisoners in the first instance and the re-offending rate.

"As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has pointed out, it is shameful that we do better at keeping Aboriginal people in prisons than we do schools," Ms Glass said.

Re-offending rates are unlikely to improve without urgent action, with the investigation finding that recidivism rates are highest among people aged 18 to 25. Over half of young prisoners return to prison within two years, setting up a cycle of offending that can last a lifetime.

"Despite a demonstrable effect on recidivism rates, Victoria has only one dedicated youth unit, housing 35 of the 751 young offenders in adult prisons," Ms Glass said.

"Interventions targeted towards young offenders – through diversion or within the prison system – provide a significant opportunity to break the cycle before it becomes entrenched."

Report: Investigation into the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Victoria

Media contact: Mob 0409 936 235 |

Notes for editors

  • On 31 January 2015, Victoria recorded its highest ever prisoner population of 6,506. On 30 June 2015, there were 6,182 prisoners in Victoria. Corrections Victoria anticipates Victoria’s prison population to be at least 8,300 and possibly as high as 8,600 by June 2019.
  • Victoria’s recidivism rate is now at a record high of 44.1%. Recidivism is defined as the rate of return of prisoners discharged from prison following a sentence, who return to prison within two years of release.
  • Since 2011, the budget for correctional services in Victoria has risen by 31% to $1.04 billion. The average prisoner costs the Victorian taxpayer around $270 a day or $295,168 over their average sentence of three years imprisonment.